Father, children missing off Florida coast; debris may be linked to family’s sailboat

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Search teams looking for a father and his three teen-aged children who disappeared off Southwest Florida amid treacherous seas have found a debris field that appears to be linked to the family’s sailboat, Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Case said Wednesday.

What may prove important, however, is what is missing from the debris field, he said, explaining that rescue teams have not given up hope.

The family, which had been living on the 29-foot sailboat in Sarasota for about a year, was sailing to Fort Myers early Sunday when they hit a thunderstorm and rough seas. Their boat, which was equipped with an outboard motor, was “not in the best of shape,” and the family was sailing to Fort Myers to work on the vessel, Case said.

When the storm hit, the father, 45-year-old Ace Kimberly, called his brother and asked him to send along some weather reports. Kimberly reported 6-foot seas off the coastline of Englewood, about 30 miles south of Sarasota, a Coast Guard news release said.

“And that’s the last they heard of him,” Case said.

The brother reported Kimberly and his children — Roger, 13, Donny, 15, and Becky, 17 — missing on Tuesday. The Coast Guard tracked the voyage, which is about 75 miles via land, and by mid-morning Wednesday, after completing eight search patterns, an airplane crew discovered the debris field.

It was found about 38 miles off Sanibel Island, which is located a few miles off of Fort Myers’ coast.

The debris field included water jugs, a tarp, tennis shoes, a basketball and a propane tank, Case said.

“These items did indeed correlate to his brother’s vessel,” he said, calling it a “dire finding.”

And while rescuers also found six life jackets, there were seven on the boat, the Coast Guard captain said. That’s a “heartening” sign, he said, as is the absence of two kayaks the family was towing behind its sailboat.

The Coast Guard received no distress call from the vessel, Case said.

He described Kimberly’s brothers and wife as frightened but hopeful.

“They are terrified, as you can imagine. They’re all feeling what we’re all feeling — anxious, upset and hoping for the best,” he said. “We are doing everything we can and throwing everything we can at this search at this time.”